Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Birthday Homage

In 1930, an age when the South was ruled by Jim Crow and the country was about to get plunged into the Great Depression, Thomas Sowell was born fatherless and black in rural North Carolina.

His aunt relocated him to Harlem and raised him as her own. In his teenage years, economic hardship compelled him to drop out of high school and join the workforce. Four years later, he was drafted by the Marines at the height of the Korean War.

After his military service was done, Sowell got his GED and used it as a springboard to a remarkable career as a scholar and researcher. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, master’s from Columbia, and doctorate from the University of Chicago, then went on to teach at Howard, Cornell, Brandeis, Amherst, and UCLA. He has been associated with four major research centers over the years, most notably the Hoover Institution at Stanford.

A true thinker, as opposed to one of the touchy-feely sorts who have taken over academia, Sowell has mastered the rare art of pursuing truth above all else. Unlike most people, he follows the facts and honestly reports them, no matter where they lead; he meticulously sets aside emotions and pre-conceived notions, in order to analyze evidence thoroughly and objectively; and he is far more concerned about being right than he is about being liked. These qualities led him to become a staunch and unapologetic defender of capitalism, after having started out as a Marxist.

Over the years he has penned numerous essays, dozens of books, and thousands of editorial columns. His essays have been published in magazines, and his editorials, which still average more than two per week, are syndicated in newspapers and on web sites across the land. And no matter how complex or unconventional his topic, he always makes his point in clear, unambiguous language because he understands what too many writers do not -- that the whole point of writing is for your audience to understand you.

Thomas Sowell’s writings pack a philosophical punch like no one else’s. When I read one of his works, I can sense myself thinking faster and clearer than before and it feels like I have a buzz. During the pre-Internet days, I felt let down every morning the Tampa Tribune failed to feature Sowell on its editorial page.

Though he is known mostly for his championing of judicial restraint and laissez-faire economics, he deals with all kinds of subjects and many of his writings are sociological. In one series of books he explores the phenomenon of children who begin talking late in childhood and are often misdiagnosed as being autistic.

Today is Thomas Sowell’s 79th birthday. If you have never read any of his works before, I encourage you to do so. His web site is here, and you can read his takes on a particularly timely topic here and here. And finally, here are some of his “pearls of wisdom” that I have collected over the years:

A gullible people cannot indefinitely remain a free people.

Do not expect common sense to return to the criminal justice system by itself. The commonness of common sense makes it unattractive to those whose whole sense of themselves depends on their feeling wiser and nobler than the common herd.

All human beings are so imperfect, no matter what color wrapping they come in, that to exempt any group from the standards of performance and behavior expected of others is not a blessing but a curse.

Nature lovers marvel that newly hatched turtles instinctively head for the sea. But that is no more remarkable than the fact that people on the political left head for occupations in which their ideas do not have to meet the test of facts or results.

For gun control laws to be effective, criminals must respect those laws. But if criminals respected laws, they wouldn’t be criminals.

All across this country, the school curriculum has been invaded by psychological-conditioning programs which not only take up time sorely needed for intellectual development, but also present an emotionalized and anti-intellectual way of responding to the challenges facing every individual and every society.

Are we afraid to face a little spin to protect what others before us have faced death for?

What is history but the story of how politicians have squandered the blood and treasure of the human race?

We do not live in the past, but the past in us.

Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.

The assumption that spending more of the taxpayer’s money will make things better has survived all kinds of evidence that it has made things worse.

Now matter how disastrously some policy has turned out, anyone who criticizes it can expect to hear: “But what would you replace it with?” When you put out a fire, what do you replace it with?

Nobody is equal to anybody. Even the same man is not equal to himself on different days.

For evidence that private property rather than democracy is the key to prosperity and freedom, I point to India and Hong Kong. In India the electoral franchise is wide and elections have long been regular, but property rights are weak. For most of the post-World War II era, in contrast, Hong Kong had no democracy, but property rights there have been among the strongest the world has ever seen. Indians are poor and shackled by a massively corrupt state; the people of Hong Kong are wealthy and free. Private property, not democracy, is the great guarantor of prosperity and liberty. And because it decentralizes power, it safeguards us from madmen with utopian hallucinations.

One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain.

Sometimes it seems as if love songs are being replaced by sex songs.

Those who say that all cultures are equal never explain why the results of those cultures are so grossly unequal. When some cultures have achieved much greater prosperity, better health, longer life, more advanced technology, more stable government, and greater personal safety than others, has all this been just coincidence?

The scariest thing about politics today is not any particular policy or leaders, but the utter gullibility with which the public accepts notions for which there is not a speck of evidence, such as the benefits of “diversity,” the dangers of “overpopulation,” and innumerable other fashionable dogmas.

What is far more of a threat than the little dictators who are puffed up with their own importance is the willingness of so many others to surrender their freedom and their money in exchange for phrases like “crisis” and “compassion.”

People who are very aware that they have more knowledge than the average person are often very unaware that they do not have one-tenth of the knowledge of all of the average persons put together. In this situation, for the intelligentsia to impose their notions on ordinary people is essentially to impose ignorance on knowledge.

Liberals seem to assume that, if you don’t believe in their particular political solutions, that you don’t really care about the people that they claim to want to help.

In Washington, the clearer a statement is, the more certain it is to be followed by a “clarification” when people realize what was said.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

et ceteras

A sampling of the thoughts running through my head:

Have you noticed that every time Barack Obama announces one of his plans to “do something” about an issue by increasing the power of government, he prefaces the announcement by declaring the issue a “crisis” that must be dealt with “immediately” or else we may “never recover” from it?

Have you noticed that Obama seems to label every domestic issue a “crisis,” while never identifying a foreign policy issue as one.

Last year’s unprecedented drop in gas prices, from roughly $4-per-gallon to less than $1.70-per-gallon, began right after George W. Bush announced an end to the executive ban on offshore oil drilling. This year’s unprecedented increase in gas prices, which has included the never-before-seen spectacle of them going up every day for 55 consecutive days, began right after Obama announced that he was reinstating the ban. Have you noticed that nobody in the MSM has bothered to mention this?

North Korea has always been up to no good, but it comported itself rather quietly while “cowboy” Bush was in office. Now, in the very brief time since “Kumbaya” Obama was sworn in, it has swiftly upped the ante by acknowledging that it is building nuclear weapons; telling the world it will not hesitate to use them against other nations; and specifically saying the U.S. is one of those nations. According to Japanese intelligence, North Korea is planning to launch a missile (presumably an unloaded one, to test its range) directly at Hawaii on the 4th of July. Coincidence?

Don’t you think Bush was right when he said North Korea is part of an “axis of evil?”

Considering the Iranian regime’s recent bludgeoning and setting afire of its citizens, don’t you think Bush was right when he said Iran is part of an “axis of evil?”

If modern Democrats want history to record them as anything other than weaklings with no common sense, they better look back at the clear-headed thinking of a prominent Democrat from the 1930’s. Not FDR, but Will Rogers. That great Cherokee comic from Okahoma said “if you want to know when a war might be coming, you just watch the United States and see when it starts cutting down on its defenses” -- and “diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ until you can find a rock” -- and “the United States has never lost a war or won a conference.”

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Solstice

In my post at the beginning of winter, I suggested that those who curse the cold should learn to appreciate everything that is beautiful about winter.

Now it’s my turn. Because I do not like hot weather, summer is my least favorite season. But there are still things I enjoy about it, and surprisingly, some of them are specific to this sweat-soaked state in which I live. So here are some thoughts on summer’s first day:

I love opening the season with our annual Beach Weekend.

I love Independence Day.

I love that there is one time of year when I am able to prefer chilled white wine over room temperature red wine.

I love when evening breezes carry the sweet scent of orange blossoms across Florida.

I love watching swallow-tailed kites, one of my favorite birds of prey, as they soar in the air and seem to stay up there forever without flapping their wings.

I love watching fireflies illuminate the woods at dusk.

I love the dramatic pulse of Florida’s afternoon storms, when black clouds darken the sky and spew lighting and thunder and unleash torrents of blinding rain – only to blow away and be replaced by sunny skies in less than an hour.

And finally, though this would be true any time of year, I love San Diego.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

For the Ages?

I have to follow up on my pre-Game Seven post about the greatness of hockey.

First off, I hope you watched the game and I hope you enjoyed it, because it was everything you dare hope for as a sports fan: intense in every respect, ferociously contested, splendidly played, with an outcome that was far from certain right down to the final second.

In many ways it reminded me of Game Seven in 2004, when my Tampa Bay Lighting defeated the Calgary Flames by the same score and in the same fashion (watch your 2-0 lead get cut to 2-1, then hold off a furious late rally to preserve the lead and claim the title).

The big question is this: Did Friday night’s game mark one great championship for the Pittsburgh Penguins, or did it mark the wholesale passing of dynasty’s baton from Detroit to Pittsburgh? Obviously, it is way too early to know. But still, it’s hard not to speculate that the latter might be the case.

Having won four Stanley Cups over the course of eleven seasons – with three different goaltenders, two different head coaches, and quite a few changes amongst their forwards and defensemen – the Detroit Red Wings have clearly been a dynastic franchise, and most people expected them to hoist the Cup again on Friday. After all, Game Seven was on their home ice and it had been 38 years since a Game Seven of the finals was won by the visiting team.

But Pittsburgh had other plans, and the Penguins defied the oddsmakers not only by winning on the road, but by coming back from series deficits of two-games-to-none and three-games-to-two to get there.

And they came back despite the fact that in the game which put them down three-to-two, they got shellacked 5-0 and looked so bad everyone thought they were mentally through and would get crushed in Game Six.

What really makes the dynasty-in-the-making talk intriguing, however, is that in addition to winning the Cup in such memorable fashion, the Penguins won it at a remarkably young age. Detroit’s roster is chock full of veterans whose tickets to the Hall of Fame are already stamped – but Pittsburgh’s captain, Sidney Crosby, is just 21 years old and resides in Mario Lemieux’s guest house. Plus, Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood is 36 while Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury is just 24 – which is significant when you consider that goalies, unlike most other athletes, are said to reach their peak in their thirties instead of their twenties.

Keep an eye on this bunch from Western PA. If they prove to be a dynasty, you can say you watched it happen. And even if they prove not to be, you can still say you watched one of the most exciting teams of a generation, for they are certainly that.

Frankly, I hope the Lightning rise again and knock them off – but that looks unlikely, and if the NHL has to be ruled by any team other than the Lighting, I hope it’s this group of Penguins.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

On Friday Night, Watch

As much as I love college football, I can not deny that hockey is the world’s greatest spectator sport. And when it comes to professional sports on this continent, no championship trophy is as difficult to win – or as hallowed to hold aloft – as Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Win the Super Bowl and hoist the Lombardi Trophy? Yes, that’s a great and significant accomplishment…but really, all it takes is a three-game winning streak.

Win the World Series and hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy? Yes, that’s a handsome trophy…but the sport is dull and those who get excited about it tend to fall into one of these categories: 1) statistics geek, or 2) sentimental journalist with low testosterone count.

Win the NBA Championship? Um, that meant something 15+ years ago, but today’s NBA is populated by a bunch of prima donna weaklings who can’t pass, can’t dribble, can’t avoid traveling or double-dribbling or carrying…and are more interested in getting mentioned on ESPN than they are in winning the games they are paid to play.

Hockey, on the other hand, is everything sports are supposed to be.

On one shift, a player may sustain bruises and a bloody nose from getting crushed into the glass, or he may lose teeth from taking a puck to the mouth…yet he will return to the ice for his very next shift, mere minutes later, without missing a second of playing time.

When they end up on the losing end of a game, players point their fingers at themselves rather than at the refs, coaches, league officials, media, fans, wives, mistresses, etc.

Winning the Stanley Cup requires a team to survive a grueling march through two months of playoffs – four best-of-seven series – during which it is an absolute guarantee there will be multiple injuries and wild swings of momentum.

And, there is but one Stanley Cup. It has existed since the 1890’s, and when a team wins it, it does not get a replica to put in its trophy case. Hockey players live by a code which says they will not touch the Cup unless they have earned the right by winning it. Some go even further in their reverence: Dave Andreychuk did not play for a championship team until his 22nd year in the league, and even though he was in the same room as the Cup on multiple occasions, he refused to even look at it until he won it with my beloved Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.

Friday night will bring an event to our television screens that is unlike anything else in professional sports: Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Detroit Red Wings could solidify their position as the biggest sports dynasty of the past quarter-century, or the much younger Pittsburgh Penguins could avenge their loss in last year’s finals and steal Detroit’s crown. Expect the players to expend more energy that night than most of us will expend over the course of the next decade. Expect the forwards to flood the nets with shots, the goalies to make mind-boggling saves, and the defensemen to sacrifice their bodies in order to block pucks traveling 90 miles per hour.

Canadians know to watch hockey. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans don’t. That might be because in most parts of the U.S., people don’t grow up with it as part of their culture, or it might be because it is easier to pick up if you go to a game in person than if you only see it on television. But you know hustle when you see it, and you know passion when you see it, and you know skill when you see it…so as an American, I am here to tell my countrymen who love sports that you must watch Game Seven on Friday night. Otherwise you are cheating yourself. Our friends to the north have it right on this one.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


65 years ago this morning, human beings from the naval forces of eight Allied nations laid their lives on the line in ways most of us can hardly fathom. Two-thirds of them were from the U.S., U.K., and Canada.

Traveling in ships and amphibious vessels, they set sail from England in the pre-dawn hours of June 6, 1944, bound for the Normandy beaches of Nazi-controlled France. It was the first time since the 1600’s that any invading military had crossed the perilous waters of the English Channel, and as day broke tens of thousands of troops disembarked from their landing craft and plunged immediately into Hell on Earth.

Slogging first through waves and then through sand, they were sitting ducks for the Nazi gunners positioned on shore. Bullets rained down on them without mercy -- hot lead instruments of death ripping through skin and bone amidst a cacophony of explosive reverberations. The men at the fronts of the landing crafts were the first ones to step on the beach, and they stepped onto it knowing they were likely to get shot. Each of them was acutely aware he might be entering the final seconds of his life.

Approximately 10,000 Allied men were killed or wounded that day. However, in bearing such an unthinkable brunt of brutality, those who were first on the scene helped clear the way for 100,000 of their fellow soldiers to reach shore and advance against the enemy, freeing occupied towns as they went. By the end of the month more than 800,000 men had done so, and the war’s momentum had swung in the Allies’ favor. Within a year the Nazis surrendered unconditionally.

In military parlance, the phrase “D-Day” refers to the first day of any operation, but in the public’s mind, it will always refer to the events on the beaches of Normandy. And now, the men who braved the bullets on those beaches are dying away at a rapid rate. Let us always appreciate their valor, and always understand that we would not be free without them.